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Truthful Talk On Treadmills

Are you tired of waiting in long lines for use of the treadmill at the gym? Or maybe it’s too much of a hassle to drive back and forth to the health club just to use the treadmill, so you decide to buy a treadmill of your own. You head to your local sports-equipment store or the big discount warehouse, try out the different machines, and buy the one that feels best to you. That simple?

How do you know whether it’ll hold up for several years? Will its electrical system and display go haywire? Will the motor burn out? Or will it end up as an extra clothes rack in the corner of your bedroom because it gave up instead of you?

In the September 1999 issue of “Cooking Light” magazine, it states that The American Council on Exercise (ACE), a nonprofit organization that describes itself as America’s “workout watchdog,” recently teamed up with Harris Black International, a leading market-research firm, to conduct a comprehensive home-treadmill survey designed to help you eliminate the lemons in the lineup.

In an Internet survey, more than 7,000 current treadmill owners rated their machines in overall satisfaction and in four specific categories: durability, safety, features and ease of use, and effectiveness of workout. Thirty-four brands were involved, but only seven brands made the A-list. Treadmills cited for overall satisfaction won at least one of the smaller categories–the exceptions are Trimline’s 1400.1 and 2200.1 models, which won solely for durability.

The winners for overall satisfaction, by price:

  • Less than $1200: ProForm swept the category with the following five models: the J8li, the 785EX, the 725EX, the CrossTrainer, and the CrossWalk LS.
  • $1200 to $2000: The PaceMaster Pro-Plus HR shared top honors with three Keys models: the Pro 1000, the Pro 2000, and the MS1200.
  • More than $2000: A triple tie at this price point: the Landice 8700 SST, the Precor M9.25I, and the True Fitness True 450.

Some details to consider when picking out a treadmill:

  • The thickness of the running belt. Two-ply belts are stronger and less likely to curl at the sides than are one-ply belts.
  • The length of the running surface. Longer decks provide more room for a comfortable stride.
  • The percentage of incline. It can range from a low of 2-4%, to a high of 15%. Commercial-grade treadmills often go as high as 25%.
  • Electronic feedback displays of speed, time, and distance are usually standard on most treadmills. Some also display the number of calories burned or heart rate. Most treadmills offer customizable programming capabilities.

Retail purchases of treadmills are up since the increased popularity of walking as an exercise. While running has been a favored American activity since the 1970’s, walking has come into the limelight in the 1990’s; in part because it’s a low-impact exercise that less-fit and older people can do easily.

Whether you walk or run on a treadmill, it’s an activity that has numerous health and physical benefits. “It has great cardiovascular value for the heart, lungs, and circulatory system,” notes Gregory Florez, president of First Fitness, Inc., a Chicago personal-training and consulting firm. “It’s a very efficient way to lose body fat, and since it’s a weight-bearing activity, it has musculoskeletal benefits as well.” If you run on a treadmill at 5.5 to 6.5 m.p.h. with no incline, you will work the quads, hamstrings, and calves. If you don’t watch TV or read, try to keep your arms bent 90 degrees and pumping hard. Or combine your treadmill workouts with a climbing machine for an excellent fat burner.

If you walk on a treadmill at a speed of 3.4 to 4.5 m.p.h. with a 5% incline, you will work the same muscles as above, plus the glutes. Beginners, as well as advanced exercisers, should walk heel-to-toe on the treadmill and keep high intensity throughout the workout.

Virtual technology may be coming to home treadmills. A company in Minneapolis, Minnesota is developing a virtual reality product for stationary bikes, steppers, ski machines, and treadmills. Called, “The Virtue Series,” these CD-ROM virtual “worlds” will enable treadmill users to pretend they’re walking on a desert at sunset or jogging on an alien planet.

Given the convenience of home-based fitness equipment, and the great physical benefits of a treadmill workout, the addition of a technology that can turn a walk into an exotic excursion might just convince you to run out (no pun intended) and buy a treadmill for your home.

PUMP IT UP!

When you think of going to a gym and lifting weights or working out on Nautilus machines, do you picture big, sweaty young men in bulging tank tops? Think again! Weight lifting and strength training are a necessary part of a woman’s fitness routine, and from the looks of it at the health club I attend, the women there agree with me. On any given day, there are as many women as men “pumping iron.”

Strength building exercises are important for everyone as they age, especially so for women, as they have more fat and less muscle than men. According to Miriam Nelson, Ph.D., the author of “Strong Women Stay Young,” women face a greater risk of osteoporosis after menopause when they lose the natural protection of estrogen. Most women begin to lose bone and muscle mass at about age 40; in part because of this, they start to become less active.

Inactive adults lose about one-half pound of muscle per year, and since women continue to eat as much as usual, these extra calories get stored as fat. A pound of fat takes up more room than a pound of muscle; so as you lose muscle and gain fat, your weight might remain steady, but your waistline & hips will expand!

Experts say strength training is as important, and maybe even more important, to fat loss and overall health than aerobic exercise. That is due to the resting metabolic rate (RMR), which is the number of calories burned by the body while at rest. A pound of muscle burns 35 to 50 calories a day compared with only two calories from a pound of fat. Women tend to choose aerobic activity over strength training, especially when they’re short on time, because it burns the greatest number of calories. However, adding muscle will raise your RMR and will increase the chance that fat loss will be maintained. Also, with aerobic exercise, the RMR is elevated temporarily – only up to a few hours afterwards. Strength training elevates the RMR permanently.

Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D., fitness research director at the South Shore YMCA, and author of “Building Strength and Stamina” and “Strength Training Past 50” says in one of his studies, more than 700 women performed about 25 minutes of strength training (13 Nautilus exercises) and 20 minutes of aerobic exercise (treadmill or cycle) 2 or 3 times a week for two months. On average, they added almost 2 pounds of muscle and lost about 4 pounds of fat. They also increased their muscle strength by over 40 percent, which greatly enhanced their physical abilities and performance levels.

Women traditionally exercise from the waist down, due to battling traditional problem areas such as the hips, buttocks, and thighs. But by balancing your workout by adding upper-body strengthening, you will appear less bottom-heavy with more defined shoulders and a stronger upper back.

When starting with a strength training routine, you need to warm up for at least 5 minutes before each workout by walking, biking or stair-climbing at a light pace. Cold muscles are stiff, and if you go straight into your workout without warming up, they can tighten up and make your workout painful, as well as increasing the risk of injury.

If you’re new to strength training, start out with less weight than you think you should. The first few repetitions should feel easy and you should be able to maintain this weight for 10-12 repetitions with the final 2-3 repetitions being challenging. You can increase the weight when the last few reps are no longer challenging, which will probably be a few weeks. After your workout, it is just as important as the workout itself, to stretch each muscle group and hold for at least 20 seconds.

In 4-6 weeks, you will notice more defined upper arms and legs and squared, instead of rounded, shoulders. Your clothes will fit better, people will probably start asking if you’ve lost weight, and you will be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound (well, not quite)!

PUTTING THE FUN IN FITNESS

Finding it difficult to fit in the recommended 30-45 minutes of exercise three days a week? Most women won’t go out of their way to fit in exercise they see as tedious or hard work. In this case, they need to seek out some fun activities. One doesn’t need to run laps, do aerobics, ride a stationary bike, or work out on a Stairmaster if they find these activities boring. James Rippe, M.D., author of “Fit Over Forty” and director of the Center for Clinical and Lifestyle Research at Tufts University in Boston, agrees, adding that engaging in fun activities seems to have a stress-reducing factor that goes beyond ordinary exercise.

“National data show that people who regularly dance significantly reduce their risk of heart disease,” he says. “The same goes for people who garden. I think that is not because of the aerobic value of the exercise, but because of the spiritual benefits.” So round up your girlfriends and go line-dancing. Just last week I was at a county-western establishment and the majority of the line-dancers were women, aged 50+. You don’t have to be a “spring chicken” to dance!

Till a patch of soil, spread in some compost, and plant some vegetables or flowers. The upkeep of the garden (weeding, watering, picking vegetables, pinching back old flower blooms) will keep you out in the fresh air and sunshine, while at the same time, burn calories.

Incorporating fun activities into your everyday routine are something anyone can do. While grocery shopping isn’t “fun” for most people, it certainly should qualify for an Olympic event!

Here are some ideas to get you going:

  • Take your dog for a walk (or borrow a neighbor’s dog).
  • Go outside and play with your kids – soccer, basketball, baseball.
  • Take a family bike ride.
  • In the winter, go sledding or ice-skating with your kids (or nieces, nephews, or grandkids).
  • Wash the car.
  • Rake leaves, then jump in them!
  • Take a walk in a beautiful park and clear your mind.
  • Go bowling (but forego the pizza and beer!).
  • Try your hand at badminton or ping-pong.
  • Go golfing.
  • Take a leisurely swim.

Some women thrive on sociability. For them, group activities are pleasurable: mall walking, team volleyball, square dancing, softball. Others find pleasure in the outdoors – an indoor treadmill might be boring, but a hike is fun. Still others find joy in solitary activities, such as rock climbing or training for a 3-mile walkathon. The fun factor increases when you minimize monotony and routine, and maximize sociability and variety.

Joe Morales, a personal trainer in Pasadena, Calif. says, “A workout is 75 – 80 percent mental. To most people, a gym is a place to go to work, so I keep people outdoors and keep things fun.” Some of his suggestions include stair climbing at a college stadium, playing tennis, learning to skate, gardening, dancing, and traveling on active vacations.

Don’t overlook the value of housework! While it may not rate high on the “fun factor” scale, it still has to be done. You can make it more enjoyable by putting on upbeat music. Really get into it by using your muscles to dust, vacuum or wash floors. Incorporate your children’s help by setting a timer and having a race – who can pick up the toys in the living room, or who can fold the most towels before the timer goes off.

Weight loss is typically a side effect, but making it your goal turns the activity into an obligation, not an enjoyable, memorable, and permanent part of your life. A few years from now, you won’t remember a few pounds lost, or a workout at the gym, but you’ll remember playing with your kids, a beautiful hike, or the first fruits of effort springing forth from your garden.